The One Feature All Modern JRPGs Should Have

The One Feature All Modern JRPGs Should Have

There is perhaps no feature more reviled in gaming than the one this column is named after: gamers, as a general rule, hate random encounters.

Take Stephen Totilo, for example. The other day I was showing Kotaku‘s fearless leader a little bit of Bravely Default, the upcoming 3DS game that is best described as “what Final Fantasy used to feel like.” Before he even saw the game in action, he said he didn’t like (paraphrased) “all those invisible encounter things.” Yes, I know what you’re thinking — Stephen Totilo is an uncultured philistine. But maybe he has a point.

Invisible monsters are something of a relic, a vestige from the days when programmers didn’t have the memory to implement all those little monsters that would attack your party in games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Like world map icons and avatars, random encounters were understood as an abstraction — every time the screen gets blurry and the speakers screech, your heroes are being attacked by wandering monsters. They’re annoying, yes, but that’s always kind of been the point — to get to the real meat of an adventure, you have to chew through all the gristle.

Today we have grown accustomed to seeing our enemies on screen before they attack, and when a JRPG comes along with those antiquated random encounters, gamers get aggravated. Why can’t the bad guys appear in the dungeons? Don’t these guys have enough RAM now? Even at their best — not invisible, not random, not excessive — insignificant enemy battles can be tedious. RPG dungeons are peppered with enemies that you’re expected to stomp easily, both as an obstacle to make completion feel more rewarding, and as a way to grant your characters the points they need to gain levels and grow really powerful. (Maths!) But because those encounters are so easy, we wind up mindlessly grinding through them, going through the motions like one of those old married couples on a TV sitcom that hasn’t had sex in years.

This might be why people don’t like random encounters. But. BUT! North America is about to get a game that changes everything.

Bravely Default has an inane title, a divine soundtrack, and a few innovative tricks that could change the way we’ll look at JRPGs in the future. Developed by the team at Square Enix responsible for Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default is a turn-based medieval fantasy game with classes and equipment and Blizzaga and all that jazz. Like 4 Heroes of Light before it, Bravely Default uses these familiar trappings to do some unique things.

I’m about 10 hours into the game, playing in English on a review copy provided by Nintendo, who published Bravely Default in the west. I’ll have some impressions early next week, and a full review eventually, but for now, allow me to talk about the one toggle that I think every next-gen JRPG should steal.

Bravely Default has invisible random encounters, yes, but…

The One Feature All Modern JRPGs Should Have

Look at this. LOOK AT IT. You can set the encounter rate. And change it at any time. You can slide the modifier to +100%, +50%, 0%, -50%, or -100%, which turns off all random encounters. It turns off all random encounters.

Let me emphasise: you can turn off all random encounters.


…You can play the game by exploring and dungeon-crawling at your own pace, without having to worry about those pesky invisible enemies, and then you can max out the slider and grind for levels when you get stuck on a powerful boss.

…You can play normally, and then when you feel like your characters are strong enough, you can cut the encounter rate in half or get rid of it entirely.

…You can turn off all encounters when your party is low on health and you’re stuck in the deep crevasses of a tough dungeon, then turn them back on once you’ve found a save point.

…You can keep the slider at -50% to make the game a bit more challenging, or boost it to 50% or 100% if you’re one of the rare souls who loves random encounters.

…You can time your progress so you only have to fight random battles when you’re doing something else, like watching TV or cooking dinner. (Note: if you figure out how to play 3DS while cooking dinner, let me know.)

Or you can just play normally. Flexibility! With a slider like this, you can play the game however you’d like, which is perfect. It’s the developers’ way of saying “Look, guys, we need to have battles — because you need to be able to practice and progress — but we don’t want them to feel like a chore.” It discards narrative realism in favour of mechanical convenience. It’s bloody brilliant.

Other JRPGs have played with this idea before: Final Fantasy VI has an accessory that prevented random encounters; Earthbound allows you to take down weaker enemies without even entering battle; many of the Dragon Quest games have temporary repellents that you can buy to ward off battles for short periods of time. But no JRPG has offered this level of customisation and flexibility. Combined with some of Bravely Default‘s other options, like fast forward and auto-battle, it’s like this game actually wants you to enjoy yourself by playing however you’d like. Imagine that!

And indeed, sometimes turning off random encounters can feel indulgent, or naughty, like you’re using a cheat code or skipping integral parts of the game, but you’ve gotta fight’em eventually, or else bosses will crush you. A slider like this allows you to play and battle at your own convenience, rather than the developers’, and that’s unprecedented. It’s a feature that other JRPG makers need to steal, or at least consider adopting in some way. Let us play how we’d like.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.

Picture: Final Fantasy Wiki


  • I have yet to play this (ITs sitting next to my 3ds) But I don’t like the idea of the feature.

    I, in most cases, quite like random encounters. Though typically only in linear dungeons, having them in a sprawling maze is nigh rage inducing. The main reason however is that you will always be the right level (unless designers are bad, but then chances are so is the game).

    With random encounters its mathematically a given that X player will fight Z battles and be V level by this boss and as such they can tune it just right. When monsters are all over the place you are often expected to kill every single thing multiple times. Skipping them loses materials or money as well as exp and you get left behind.

    So you either are forced to grind after skipping or kill too much and end up way over powered, none of which (Should) happen(s) with random encounters, you go through the dungeon or area A/B/C and fight a typical amount of foes.

    I would also consider this feature almost cheating, it is basically a get out of jail free card. If you are almost dead simply turn encounters off. Don’t like the monsters in this cave, turn it off and kill the easier ones in the forest and turn the counter to max to make it quick. It circumvents the intended design flow, which in a great game is a bad thing. However in a poorly made game I could see it being useful too, but why play it in the first place.

    • Nah, it works well. Especially since this game gets a bit repetitive at the end. There is always tons of extra additional boss fights to do. Like you say, it would mess you up in the earlier parts of the game if you turned it off. You could always just turn it back on and grind a bit though.

      It’s kind of like being able to use repels in pokemon. It doesnt mess up the flow that much. You cant skip all the events and bosses and if you have trouble and die to one of them, unlike other JRPGS, you will never be stuck and need to reload an earlier save. You will just have to grind a few mobs.

      The game also lets you play battles at 4times speed and has a button to make the characters automatically repeat their last actions. It does truely feel like a modern JRPG system, which is why people are raving about it so much.

      To be clear this is the only JRPG I can say I have actually enjoyed in many years (Besides Fire emblem/pokemon, but they nostelgia/SRPG anyway). Probably since TWEWY. I am looking forward to the sequel.

      • While I’m not completely sold on this feature, anyone who praises TWEWY is someone I should be listening to (and I absolutely loved how it broke the mold by allowing the player to tweak nearly everything and play the game however they wanted). I might just have to give Bravely Default a go.

      • Have to agree with this post in its entirety. Once you hit “the repetitive grinding bit” being able to switch off encounters is just a fantastic feature. Also consider that when you get “that class with the OP grinding ability” and get those two accessories “that improve the potency of your grinding” you will max out your characters and classes in very little time at all if you run around in circles “at the dungeon in the top left”. When you have literally no reason to enter into combat with anything outside of a boss then switching off random encounters makes the game so much more playable.

        I could replace all of the quotation mark sections of this post with tons of spoilers just for funsies but I am not feeling that vindictive today. I would totally do it over on the US site though.

      • See my other comment below for further clarification on my point.

        In regards to your pokemon example that doens’t work. Wild pokemon are nothing more than a means to catch more pokemon, they are not needed or intended to “level” up your character. Skipping them changes nothing, it won’t leave you under leveled or change anything within the game, evidenced by the fact the game supplys you with repels at eveyr opportunity.

        No a more accurate example would be the inclusion of a trainer repel that lets you skip trainers, which would infact impact on the game and leave you considerably under leveled. Those trainers are there on purpose to give you just enough exp so that you can progress without fighting wild Pokemon, to skip them all when convenient circumvents this intended design.

    • “Cheating” is not a thing I consider as “existing” in solo gaming. Games are fun or interesting, the interactive and creative nature of a game almost allows for any form of story delivery you can imagine. When people start caring about “cheating” when really all that’s been posed is a choice; I think maybe it’s been taken too seriously. Your logic also doesn’t really work for every single RPG, either. Maybe some, anecdotally. None of those things are rules though and there are many other factors that go into balancing a game.

      • Well its why i wasn’t definitive on every single point, there are obviously games this would work well on, but the way i see it Its mere existence is a problem.

        Think about the games that this would be useful on, games where you are FORCED to grind for no real reason or fight battles that give no reward for sheer padding. For a company that has these kinds of problems in its games I see it as a cop out. Its a “we can’t make this game good enough so have this feature”.

        In theory is sounds like a nice idea, but it also seems like a double edged sword that will promote those too lazy to make the best game they can by simply saying “good enough”, then chucking in this slider.

        In regards to my almost cheating remarks its not the same thing. Playing guitar hero and using a “cheat” to unlock all songs in free mode is not something that ruins or diminishes any part of the game. Some people have no desire to play career what so ever and this is a good solution for them. Then, however, there are cheats that make you invincible or makes expert mode easier, drastically lowers the precision required to hit a note.

        Now I’m not going to tell someone how to enjoy a game, but this slider is far closer to the later on the “cheat scale”. Because it skirts around intended design (be that a good or bad thing, depending on the design). Which was really all my point was trying to make.

        • I think of it like difficulty settings. Different players have different skills and different desires/requirements when tackling a game, which is why difficulty settings exist and have since forever. This slider is just a way of refining the difficulty settings beyond the very limited ‘increase damage taken/decrease damage done/resources gained’ set that developers usually rely on. It’s not so much a flaw in design as much as it is catering to the different audiences who will all have different requirements for enjoyment. Just like difficulty settings do.

          • I agree, at least a little, though this slider doesn’t change boss fights or make enemies in the next area weaker. So it doesn’t do anything for difficulty except bail you out of a bad spot assuming you can leave and go rest or w/e.

            If someone really wants an easier game then they can usually put the game on easy, I still don’t see how this helps in either regard when all it does is shift the “when” of killing XX mobs to reach y level. Skipping will only mean you need to grind some other time or those next area monsters will be too difficult, meaning your like the 3 little pigs. Last area is too weak which means you need to grind even more for same exp, which you only do if you can’t beat the mobs your supposed to be fighting. As such your certainly not going to beat the higher level ones, so i’m really not seeing how this helps difficulty.

    • You dont have to use the feature if you dont want thats the beauty of it. You have choice over the games mechanics. Correct me if im qrong but I think you can also adjust the games difficulty at any time. Thats means if one really hates random encounters you can lower the encoubter rate and leave it at the difficulty setting you enjoy and if you fight a boss that is too hard due to having a low encounger rate you can adjust the difficulty in order to overcome the fight. It might seem that having easy bosses ruins the game but you can adjust the difficulty of the bosses to be on par with your characters xp.

  • If you hate random encounters so much, I don’t know why you are even playing a jrpg. Just play a different game and let us who actually like this type of gameplay enjoy them. It’s like saying that a fps should only have a team deathmatch mode, because no-one likes the other modes so they should just not put them in the game at all.

    • They should make it so that if an enemy’s on the screen when you pull the trigger in an FPS, it automagically shoots them and they die.

      I don’t wanna bother with all that fiddly aiming business.

    • A more accurate comparison would be ‘I don’t know why you play FPS if you don’t like cover-based mechanics’.

      And there’s lots of reasons why you’d still play a JRPG. Story, combat systems, co-op gameplay, ect.

      Heck, look at pokemon. So many people love the series, but ask them if they loved going through Mt Moon (Effing Zubats) or Rock Tunnel (ARRRRRGH!)

    • I don’t like random encounter as I don’t always have a lot of time grinding from point A to point B, however I do love the world, story and characters of JRPGs. Features like this allow me to play the game rather than get frustrated with the random encounters hindering me.

      Features like this make the game more accessible to others and mean better sales for the game. Better sales mean the publisher/developer are more likely to make sequels or more games for us to enjoy.

  • Might as well make the game savable at any point while we’re nerfing them.

    The feature that all modern JRPGs should have is skippable cutscenes.

    • You’re in luck, the game auto-saves when you move between floors or enter areas and it has skippable cutscenes. I’m not sure about the rave reviews this game gets. For the first 20 hours it’s the tired old ‘let’s awaken the crystals’ that has been in so many games before, and then the rest of the game just repeats the first 20 hours FOUR times!

    • If you hate unskippable cutscenes so much, I don’t know why you are even playing a jrpg. Just play a different game and let us who actually like this type of gameplay enjoy them. It’s like saying that a fps should only have a team deathmatch mode, because no-one likes the other modes so they should just not put them in the game at all.

    • There’s an auto-save option after every map change and a save point before every main encounter 🙂 The game is anything but easy.

  • My vote for the one feature all modern JRPGS should have is a save anywhere feature. When I’m playing and I have to stop soon, I always think, ‘should I go back to the previous save point or will there be one right ahead…?’

  • Not upcomming, its been out here since december.

    You can also speed up the fights to 4x speed and make your characters automatically loop their last commands. Leveling up jobs to get new abilities to cross class with makes grinding kind of rewarding. Combined all of this makes the game feel fun and eliminates the grind per se.

    I only ever turned off the actual encounters when I was in the like 6/7th chapter and was already level 99.

    • It’s being released February 7th in North America. (Didn’t realise it had been delayed there, myself.)

      I like this slider myself. Since many of the dungeons aren’t linear, and sometimes you just want to backtrack to the last branch point (or look for hidden passages), it can be nice sometimes to shut off the encounters so you can just wander around.

      On the other hand, when you want to force the pace a bit to grind, you can bump the slider up so there’s somewhat less pointless running around in circles.

      Personally I’m semi-stuck close to the end of chapter 4… trying to kill off the dragons. The element-weakening attack plus the group stomp is n-a-s-t-y. (But I think I’ve just figured out how to work around it.)

      • Yeah the dragons were the last hard fight in the game imo. Maybe the last boss. When you get a good team setup and skills, its pretty faceroll.

  • People who are against don’t have to use the feature because it is optional, though for some unknown reason they are against it. What part of optional do you dislike? When you’re level 99 on FF and you’re running through a low level area because you forgot something, you don’t want to be getting encounters every 5-steps that make a previously 3-minute job turn into a 30-minute job. JRPG peeps being elitist as usual. I love JRPG and I want more to come to Australia as well, though this OPTION(optional option) does not impact game unless you want it to.

    • I’ve sunk so many hours into the game. This option was merely a quality of life improvement for me when I needed to backtrack to the other side of the map (dem dungeons). Options are great. That said I do take some offence at being labelled an elitist when it’s only some weirdos making nonsensical remarks 😛

  • But no JRPG has offered this level of customisation and flexibility

    What about “The World Ends With You”? Not only can you change the difficulty but aside from one chapter all battles are selected by you. Even then you can select how many enemies attack you and how strong they are. You can even lower your level to make enemies stronger in order to increase drop percentage.

  • Options are always nice. Now I can play how I want at my pace. Real progress.
    I am looking forward to what 2014 has to bring.

  • A lot of modern JRPGs do have battle skip mechanics though, whether it’s a Chrono Trigger style enemies on screen you can avoid, menu/map selected fights, items to prevent encounters, auto-combat resolution, etc. Bravely Default is just modernising a traditional formula by providing a configuration system while other games are just doing away with the need for it altogether.

  • Also, good luck on Chaumgar, I hope you brave 4 times into a shield drop and I hope Behemoth gives you really awful RNG with roar spam 😛
    I also hope you have weak physical defense against performer and have low health against alchemist.

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